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01-Apr-03 | Delta flight 297 – NAVSTAR IIR-9

Monday, 31 March, saw the launch of NAVSTAR IIR-9, a replenishment satellite for the U.S. Air Force’s Global Positioning System. Winds were gusty at the time of service tower rollback, causing the rocket to occasionally sway back and forth until it was weighted down with fuel and oxidizer, but subsided early enough that the countdown was essentially as clear as the blue skies at the Cape. A glitch with some Eastern Range hardware, coupled with a wayward aircraft that wandered momentarily into the exclusion zone, pushed the liftoff to the very end of the day’s window, which occurred at 17:09:00.850 EST.

The 297th Delta flight (the 106th for Delta II) went off flawlessly, placing Space Vehicle Number 45 into its proper transfer orbit just over 68 minutes after liftoff. In the next few days the satellite will boost itself into its operational orbit to replace NAVSTAR II-5, which launched aboard Delta 190 more than 13 years ago. (II-5 has some life left in it and will be moved into a “close pair” co-orbit with IIA-11 to serve as a backup.) The Global Positioning System, which consists of ground control and user segments in addition to the space segment, is an important part of the “smart munitions” being employed in America’s present conflict, and as such has been mentioned a lot lately in the media (which often mistakenly refer to it as “Global Positioning Satellite“). GPS is also widely used in civilian applications on land, sea, and in the air.

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